Sun Valley (Idaho) 4-10-14

The world’s first chairlifts were built in the late 1930s at Sun Valley, Idaho. Today the modern resort is a mecca for enthusiasts of skiing history.

The chairlift on Ruud Mountain is all that remains of Sun Valley's pioneering invention

The chairlift on Ruud Mountain is all that remains of Sun Valley’s pioneering invention

The world’s first chairlift — a crude but effective one-seater — was invented in the summer of 1936 by James Curran, a mechanical engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad. The railroad, under the leadership of its skiing chairman, Averell Harriman, developed Sun Valley as a destination resort that could attract movie stars and socialites.

The first two examples of Curran’s invention were installed on Proctor and Dollar mountains and proved to  be very successful. A third was installed in for the 1938-1939 season on Ruud Mountain, which was adjacent to Proctor.

By the early 1950s, the first two examples of Curran’s genius were removed as Sun Valley upgraded its facilities and shifted its main focus to Bald Mountain, a couple of miles away. The Ruud Mountain chair, long inoperative, still remains. It is located north of the current Dollar Mountain complex, next to a house at 602 Fairway Road.

To read an excellent article by Dick Dorworth about these lifts, please click here.

View of the lower terminal of the Ruud Mountain chairlift, with the bullwheel unit in the foreground

View of the lower terminal of the Ruud Mountain chairlift, with the bullwheel unit in the foreground

Yesterday I visited and took a few photos. The lower terminal had two steel structures. Farthest downhill (and the taller of the two) supported the counterweight, while the bullwheel was mounted on the uphill unit. The view above was taken from near the spot where skiers would have loaded.

As mentioned above and in Dick Dorworth’s article, Sun Valley moved its principal operations to Bald Mountain and that 9,000-plus-foot peak is where most of today’s skiing takes place.

After visiting the Ruud Mountain chairlift yesterday morning, I drove a couple of miles south and skied Baldy. I hopped on the Challenger lift, a high-speed quad that rises about 3,200 vertical feet from the Warm Springs Lodge to the summit.

The 9,015-foot summit of Bald Mountain at Sun Valley is served by three high-speed quad chairlifts

The 9,015-foot summit of Bald Mountain at Sun Valley is served by three high-speed quad chairlifts

Contrast the primitive construction of the old Ruud Mountain lift with the ultra-modern lines of Challenger’s upper terminal!

Deer Valley (Utah) 4-3-14

It’s a small world. When Suzy Chaffee and I unloaded our gear at Deer Valley yesterday, we were greeted by a host from my home state of Maine.

Denny Olsen and Suzy Chaffee at Deer Valley Mountain Resort

Denny Olsen and Suzy Chaffee at Deer Valley Mountain Resort

Not only was Denny Olsen from the Sugarloaf area, he was a good friend of Bruce Miles, the executive director of the Ski Museum of Maine. (I am the Museum’s curator and research director.)

Suzy Chaffee stops by a signpost on Deer Valley's Big Stick trail

Suzy Chaffee stops by a signpost on Deer Valley’s Big Stick trail

Suzy and I stayed mainly on the many groomed runs — a signature of Deer Valley — and locals told us that it was pretty much the best day of the 2013-2014 ski season. I snapped the picture above on one of those trails near the site of several Olympic skiing events in 2002. Suzy was a top U.S. downhill skier at the 1968 Olympics at Grenoble.

Suzy Chaffee prepares to dig into chili and fries at Deer Valley's Empire Lodge

Suzy Chaffee prepares to dig into chili and fries at Deer Valley’s Empire Lodge

Another Deer Valley signature is turkey chili. Suzy and I stopped at the Empire Lodge for lunch and split a pair of chili-fries — one prepared with traditional chili con carne and the other with Deer Valley’s famous concoction. Both were tops.

A large and prominent reminder of Park City's silver mining past is located in Deer Valley's Empire Village

A large and prominent reminder of Park City’s silver mining past is located in Deer Valley’s Empire Village

Just outside the lodge is a large and prominent remnant of Park City’s silver mining past — the hoist structure that once lifted thousands of tons of galena ore to the surface for smelting.

A large modern building — ski resort lodging — forms the backdrop and underscores the transformation that the sport and business of skiing has forged in this former ghost town.

Transformation is a major theme of the International Skiing History Week, which is currently happening in Park City.

Although Suzy is best known for her incredible athletic abilities in multiple branches of skiing and as the pretty face promoting Chapstick lip balm, her lasting contributions include advancing the cause of women in sports. Suzy was instrumental in transforming the Olympics and she successfully advocated for the passage of Title IX, which profoundly transformed college sports.

Nowadays she’s pushing to transform the lives of Native Americans through sports. Her Native American Olympic Team Foundation has multiple aims, which include transforming the ski industry’s response to global warming.

Park City Mountain Resort 4-2-14

“Go topless if you want to stay slim,” explained ski legend Suzy Chaffee at lunch yesterday afternoon at Park City Mountain Resort.

Ski legend Suzy Chaffee 'goes topless' at lunch at Park City Mountain Resort

Ski legend Suzy Chaffee ‘goes topless’ at lunch at Park City Mountain Resort

Lunch was an event of the International Skiing History Week, currently underway in this historic Utah silver mining town, which featured Tom Kelly, VP of communications for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team VP of communications Tom Kelly

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team VP of communications Tom Kelly

Kelly, who is also the co-president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum, outlined the history of the team’s permanent home in Park City, which began in the 1973-1974 season.

Tom explained to an audience of a hundred or so, that the relationship began in as a deal between U.S. Ski Team head coach Willy Schaeffler and Park City Ski Area owner Edgar Stern. In October, 1973, the National Ski Training Center opened in a large building about midway up the mountain. The building had once been a dormitory for the men who worked the nearby silver mines.

Later, after the USST moved into other Park City digs, the building was hauled about half a mile uphill and is now used as the resort’s Mid-Mountain Lodge — which is where today’s lunch was held.

This year’s 40th anniversary of the USST’s move to Park City is one of the highlights of Skiing History Week. After four decades of evolution, the present Center of Excellence emerged.

Lunch companions included Tom West, president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum, and Suzy.

Tom and I discussed the possibility of adding programming to future Skiing History Weeks that is specifically directed toward ski museum people  — woefully under-represented this week!

Suzy is the most beautiful and glamorous skier in history, with a list of credits as an athlete and builder/advocate of our sport that is far too long for a post such as this.

We spent the afternoon skiing the groomed trails and talking about her place in skiing history, and her current passion for advancing the cause of Native American athletes through her foundation.

Suzy Chaffee poses with her signature Femme Sportive skis

Suzy Chaffee poses with her signature Femme Sportive skis

Stopping for hot chocolate at the Snow Hut lodge, I snapped the pic above of Suzy posing with her signature “sunrise pink” Femme Sportive skis, made in the 1980s by Hart. They were among the first female-specific models made. (Suzy commented that these first-ever pink skis also sold well among gay men in San Francisco.)

After the cocoa, we performed a “snow gratitude” ceremony on the porch of Snow Hut and talked up the possibility of advancing the objectives of her Native American Olympic Team Foundation in Maine. Suzy and I both have strong connections with Mt. Abram, and that modest western Maine ski area would make an ideal site to begin, we believe.

And the “going topless” bit that stimulated some conversation at lunch? Keeping her svelte figure is always a challenge. One stratagem Suzy religiously follows: Remove the top slice of bread from every sandwich.

Bill Koch League Festival 2-22-14

Yesterday I visited the 2014 Bill Koch League Festival, in Waterville, Maine, and I noted a number of historical connections.

The BKL Festival, hosted by the Central Maine Ski Club and sanctioned/promoted by the New England Nordic Ski Association, was held at Quarry Road Recreation Area. Owned by the city of Waterville and developed with extensive private money and expertise, Quarry Road is one of Maine’s newest facilities for cross-country skiing.

Start of relay race for girls in grades 7-8 at the 2014 Bill Koch League Festival

Start of relay race for girls in grades 7-8 at the 2014 Bill Koch League Festival

The photo above, taken Saturday at the start of the relay race for girls in grades 7-8, reminded me that the first competition on skis in Maine occurred at the winter carnivals at numerous schools, colleges, cities and towns in the 1920s and 1930s.

Although ski jumping attracted most of the attention from the newspapers of the era — and today’s ski historians too — it’s worth noting that cross-country skiing (often in races at carnivals) was the way most Mainers got their introduction to our sport.

(Down-mountain skiing and racing wasn’t introduced to Maine until the mid-1930s, and it wasn’t until ski lifts proliferated that this branch of the sport really took off.)

Start of cross-country "ski dash" for boys at the fairground in Caribou in the 1930s

Start of cross-country “ski dash” for boys at the fairground in Caribou in the 1930s

Above is a photo of the start of a cross-country race for schoolboys in Caribou in the 1930s, courtesy of the Caribou Historical Society. The cross-country races were held at the horse trotting track at the fairground (note the grandstand on the right) and the distances were very short. They were actually billed as “ski dashes” and they were mostly track events run on skis. Distances were typical of track meets of the period: 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards and one mile.

Unlike the races of the 1920s and 1930s, which used fairgrounds and roads, the 2014 BKL action took place on purpose-built trails that were constructed for both recreational skiing and racing. That’s an important part of contemporary ski history.

Start of a cross-country relay race at the 2014 BKL Festival. Note boom for snowmaking on left.

Start of a cross-country relay race at the 2014 BKL Festival. Note boom for snowmaking on left.

As proof, check out the above photo, another view of the start of a BKL race. The metal pole on the left (with a Colby College flag flying off the top) is a boom which has a snowmaking gun at the top. Two other snowmaking booms are faintly visible farther back in the photo. That’s another historic first!

Click here for a story and tons of photos from the 2014 BKL Festival.

Click here for a detailed story on how Quarry Road Recreation Area came to be, written by Pat Cote, the former executive director of the New England Nordic Ski Association.

 

Cannon Mountain 2-20-14

Yesterday I visited historic Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H., with a ski buddy who is also interested in the history of our sport.

Greg Titherington poses near the start of Taft Slalom, the oldest ski trail on Cannon Mountain

Greg Titherington poses near the start of Taft Slalom, the oldest ski trail on Cannon Mountain

Greg Titherington and I have been skiing together since the mid-1990s, and we’re both members of the New England Ski Museum, which is located near the Tramway Valley station.

The summit of Cannon Mountain is a popular spot for taking photos

The summit of Cannon Mountain is a popular spot for taking photos

Yesterday started as a perfect bluebird day, with cloudless skies, no wind and abundant powder snow from the previous two storms.

One of our first runs off the 4,000-plus-foot summit was Taft Slalom, which was the first trail on the mountain. It was cut in 1932. That’s before any ski lifts had been built — in other words, a hike-up-ski-down affair.

The most famous lift on the mountain was the Aerial Tramway, which opened for the 1938-1939 season.

Each cabin in the new Aerial Tramway carries 70 skiers

Each cabin in the new Aerial Tramway carries 70 skiers

It was replaced by the current Tram II (above), which opened in 1980. Each of the new tram cabins carries 70 skiers. The old cabins were much smaller, probably holding about 25.

For much more info on the history of Cannon Mountain, click here to visit Jeremy Clark’s wonderful website.

The New England Ski Museum is located near the Valley Station of the Cannon Mountain  Aerial Tramway

The New England Ski Museum is located near the Valley Station of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

After we were finished skiing, Greg and I headed down to the museum, where one of the old tram cabins (pictured above, on left of building) sits beside the entryway, used for miscellaneous storage.

Greg Titherington poses near the old cabin of the original Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

Greg Titherington poses near the old cabin of the original Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

Inside Greg and I viewed the exhibits and chatted with manager Linda Bradshaw and executive director Jeff Leich.

Greg plans to attend the ski museum’s Meister Cup March 7-9. I purchased a copy of Jeff’s book on the 10th Mountain Division.

And for the ladies: The ruggedly handsome Greg, a former ski instructor, asked me to note that he’s single and available.

Loon Mountain & National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame

After a wonderful day of skiing at Loon Mountain, in Lincoln, New Hampshire, a group of friends and I visited the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame.

Members of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club pictured at the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame

Members of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club pictured at the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame

All the above-mentioned friends belong to the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club.

One of them is MOAC president Nancy Dorrans (second from left in above photo), who volunteers at New England Disabled Sports, located at Loon a few yards west of the Governor Adams base lodge.

After we got off the slopes in the late afternoon, Nancy suggested a visit to the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame, which has been housed with NEDS for the past four years.

I had no idea that so many people had played such an important part in getting the disabled skiing snowball rolling. I’d read about Hal O’Leary and knew something about his incredible work at Winter Park in Colorado, beginning in 1970.

Nancy had a very close connection with Norbert Fischer, who died last summer. According to the citation posted on the wall, he was energetically working to enable disabled skiers in the early 1960s — which makes him one of the true pioneers.

Photos and capsule biographies for all members can be found on the website by clicking here.

And the skiing? Today was my 35th day of the season, and definitely one of the best — packed powder galore and all trails groomed to a fare-thee-well. Perfect bluebird day.

Okemo 1-16-14

Tomahawk. Chief. Sachem. Those are trail names at Okemo Mountain Resort, in Ludlow, Vermont. The names recall the resort’s past.

Sign for Upper Chief Trail at Okemo

Sign for Upper Chief Trail at Okemo

Sachem chairlift at Okemo Mountain Resort

Sachem chairlift at Okemo Mountain Resort

Carol Meerschaert poses near the sign for the Tomahawk Trail at Okemo Mountain Resort

Carol Meerschaert poses near the sign for the Tomahawk Trail at Okemo Mountain Resort

I visited today with Carol Meerschaert (above), a longtime ski buddy. Before we arrived she asked about the name “Okemo.” I explained that it was a Native American word that meant something like “coming home.”

When Okemo opened for skiing in the 1955-1956 season, the developers thought that Ludlow Mountain (the physical/geographical name) was too pedestrian, and settled on the Native American word as more marketable.

Jay Silverheels pictured as a spokesman for Okemo Mountain Resort

Jay Silverheels pictured as a spokesman for Okemo Mountain Resort

They carried the theme further, naming trails (and lifts) for things related to Native Americans. They even went so far as to hire Jay Silverheels (above) as an official spokesman.

Remember Jay Silverheels? He played Tonto in The Lone Ranger television show in the 1950s. In addition to being a genuine Native American (from Canada) Silverheels was an excellent skier.

Marketing director Bonnie MacPherson supplied the Silverheels photo as well as the one below, which advertised trail conditions at a local gasoline station.

This sign once advertised Okemo's  trail conditions at a Ludlow gas station

This sign once advertised Okemo’s trail conditions at a Ludlow gas station

One of MacPherson’s jobs is getting the word out on trail conditions. Not an onerous task, considering that Okemo currently boasts the most skiable acreage in New England.

Carol and I had a great day. She commented: “Okemo is unlike any other mountain I’ve ever skied. It was so expansive. The runs were wide like a superhighway. I also liked the geography. It wasn’t just straight up and down.”

It snowed most of today, a welcome change from Tuesday’s drenching and dispiriting rainstorm. As of today, all of central Vermont is once again white.

Suicide Six 1-12-14

Redolent of skiing history: That’s the quick take on Suicide Six, which has a good claim to be Vermont’s oldest ski area.

And it’s the continuation of an even older landmark event, which was the operation of America’s first rope tow, on a hillside a couple of miles away.

John Flynn at the top of Suicide Six

John Flynn at the top of Suicide Six

Today I made my first-ever visit to Suicide Six, aka “S6,” where I was hosted by ski school director “Kirky” Flynn, a vivacious and charming woman, and her husband John.

Among John’s skiing accomplishments, he’s finished first in his class several years running at the annual Vermont Antique Ski Race. The 11th edition of this classic event is slated for March 15 this year at Pico Mountain.

John and I skied S6 for a couple of hours. Conditions were surprisingly good, considering the deluge of rain that fell yesterday.

He explained that S6, which boasts 650 vertical feet, got going in 1936, and that it represented the continuation (and relocation) of “Bunny” Bertram’s 1934 rope tow, which is considered to be the first in the U.S.

Much of this history is summarized on Jeremy Clark’s website. Click here to bring it up.

We visited the clubhouse of the Woodstock Ski Runners, the S6 resident racing group. One of S6’s oldest trail maps hung on the wall, and John provided the picture below.

An old trail map showing various runs on Suicide Six

An old trail map showing various runs on Suicide Six

I was introduced to Jimbo and Lynne Davenport, the couple who run the ski shop and rental operation. Lynne is an unofficial Suicide Six historian, and she promises to send along some of her wonderful collection of old S6 photos, which I will share with visitors to this website.

This will be the first of an occasional series of posts on Suicide Six and its multi-faceted history.

Cranmore Mountain Resort 1-9-14

The history of skiing and Cranmore Mountain Resort, in North Conway, New Hampshire, are inextricably linked — and very well documented.

Most historical accounts focus on famed Skimeister Hannes Schneider, his son Herbert, the celebrated Skimobile and the major role the mountain played in the development of the sport and the business in the 1930s through 1950s.

But history is always happening — a major premise of this website — and what we see today may disappear tomorrow and morph into old photos and fond memories.

Jonathan Keck poses in front of the venerable base lodge

Jonathan Keck poses in front of the venerable base lodge

Such is the case with the mountain’s venerable base lodge, pictured above in a photo I took today.

About a month ago, Cranmore officials adumbrated a Master Development Plan that will involve replacing most of the base area buildings with a new complex that will include all the usual base services — lodge, rentals, retail, cafeteria, pub, etc. — along with residential condominiums. Collectively this project is known as Kearsarge Brook.

Artist's sketch of proposed  Kearsarge Brook complex

Artist’s sketch of proposed Kearsarge Brook complex

Above is an artist’s sketch of how the complex will look when the project is complete.

Click here for a press release that provides additional details.

Carol Meerschaert warms up in the Meister Hut

Carol Meerschaert warms up in the Meister Hut

I am happy to say that one building won’t be touched: the cozy old Meister Hut at the summit. In the photo above, which I took about a year ago, Carol Meerschaert warms her feet by the fire in the Hut.

I always enjoy skiing at Cranmore. Today was exceptionally fine, with superb snow conditions and nearly all trails open. The snow guns were howling on a couple of major runs — North Conway and Arlberg — which I expect will soon be open.

Jonathan Keck, my ski pal for today, was on his first visit to Cranmore, and he loved it too.

 

 

 

Mt. Abram 12-29-13

I had a nice chat with the new team that is managing Mt. Abram this season. Early in 2014 they plan to announce key details of their proposal to turn the mountain into a community-based cooperative.

Dave Scanlan and Jamie Schectman, co-founders of Mountain Riders Alliance

Dave Scanlan and Jamie Schectman, co-founders of Mountain Riders Alliance

Their contention is that the present profit-oriented “corporate model” for small ski areas such as Mt. Abram should be superseded by a community-based paradigm that will be directed by various stakeholders who are usually not represented at the present time under the present regime.

They may be on to something. Mt. Abram has a passionate group of longtime skiers — including a number of personal friends — but has suffered a rather checkered financial history, especially over the past 25 years.

“They” are the Mountain Riders Alliance, which is managing Mt. Abram this year. MRA founders are Dave Scanlan, who is Mt. Abram’s general manager, and Jamie Schectman, who is the marketing director.

Schectman emphasizes that the co-op will technically be a for-profit entity, but that whatever profits accrue will be re-invested in the mountain.

Says Schectman: “Instead of private ownership, the ski area operations will be owned by a community of skiers that will make decisions based on what is best for future generations.”

A successful conversion to co-op in 2014 will allow the new entity to raise the money needed for some key infrastructure projects. No. 1 on the list is improving the snowmaking system, according to Schectman.

Another significant project is building a new base lodge. Currently there is a “sprung structure,” which was erected after a midsummer fire destroyed the old lodge in 2011.

Click here for the Bethel Citizen article about the fire, including a photo.

Mt. Abram opened for the 1960-1961 season, one of the last of Maine’s current ski resorts to be built. Below is a pic of the original base lodge — before several additions created the structure that burned after a lightning strike on July 6, 2011.

The original base lodge at Mt. Abram

The original base lodge at Mt. Abram

The photo is used in one of my Fireside Chats that I do for the Ski Museum of Maine.

Here’s the current “sprung structure,” in a photo I took this afternoon. It was taken from the same spot as the circa-1960s photo above.

Base lodge Mt AbramIt has served its purpose, and now it’s time to move on. And maybe it’s also time start writing an exciting new chapter in the history of skiing. Or at least the business that underlies the sport.